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She just wanted the violence to stop

By Stephen Hagan - posted Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Mick Dodson (b. April 10, 1950), long term Indigenous advocate and 2009 Australian of the Year, once said in his 2003 National Press Club speech: “As Indigenous people it is sad that even if we haven’t personally experienced violence, then we know somebody close to us who has.”

I preface this article by stating categorically that I’ve no recollection of my father hitting my mother and I have never, nor will I ever, assault my wife, Rhonda.

Recently I received a telephone call from Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin’s office inviting me to Canberra to attend a specially convened forum for 20 Indigenous leaders to speak on the topic of Indigenous violence. The call initially took me by surprise as I’ve had no history of contact with the Minister’s office previously nor have I been involved at any level: regional, state or federal, on deliberations on this critical subject that afflicts many Indigenous people.


My preliminary thought on receiving the Minister’s auspicious invitation was to forfeit my seat at the forum table for someone who works daily at the coalface and who would have more empirical evidence to substantiate their viewpoint than myself who operates at a social commentator’s level on anecdotal signals from family members and friends.

I was talked out of surrendering my seat by the Minister’s office as it was revealed their strategic approach in this instance was to bring to Parliament House a cross section of critical thinkers from Indigenous communities nationwide who would offer divergent views on this escalating problem.

This unorthodox approach did, in fact, deliver recommendations that perhaps otherwise may well have been overlooked by those who are generally so immersed in the day to day conflict resolution stratagem that they could have missed the bigger picture discerned in more simplistic ways, by lay persons several steps removed.

In attendance at the forum were Ministers Macklin and Plibersek (Office of Women), their staff, and executive members from the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. High profile Indigenous leaders seated around the table included Sue Gordon, Tammy Williams, Marcia Ella Duncan, Hannah McGlade, Bonnie Robertson, Warren Mundine, Rodney Dillon, Charlie King, and Shane Phillips.

Bessie Nungarrayi Price from the Northern Territory gave a heart wrenching address during the opening session that was a precursor for raw emotional recollections from delegates for the balance of the day.

Bessie said she witnessed violence against women every day of her life in the remote Indigenous community of Yuendumu and spoke of the “scars that decorate my body” as evidence of the personal anguish she has had to endure.


The most sobering observation for me of Bessie’s reflective speech were the sombre words used to describe the farcical nature in which her fatally wounded granddaughter - stabbed by her ex husband - was attended to by ambulance officers: “The ambulance took an hour to get to her while it waited for a police escort. She could have been saved, if it had got there earlier.”

In Australia 2009 it defies belief that public no-go zones exist in alcohol fuelled town camps throughout the nation, which continue to thrive in a state of anarchy where it necessitates police escorts for paramedics to perform their duty in life and death emergencies where every minute counts.

Another delegate spoke informally to me of her clients who have also been victims of grave acts of domestic violence in her community. One such case that left an impression on me was the story of the efforts required to satisfy bail conditions for one of her clients who stabbed her brother after he had raped her in a town camp.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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